Sudden diplomatic disaster for Sánchez in North Africa

Analysis: Spanish PM was supposed to be on a trip to the City of Light in France but has ended up in North Africa to angry cries of "Bastard...!" after thousands of Moroccans crossed into Spanish city of Ceuta.
By Matthew Bennett
May 18, 2021, 7:00 pm

Morocco does not seem to have a problem with what is happening in the Spanish North African city of Ceuta. Its police forces allowed up to 9,000 people (TVE report) to rush across the border into Spain and Europe over a period of about 36 hours. At least 1,500 of them are children, which will cause legal headaches for authorities for weeks to come. The latest official number for those who have already been sent back is 4,000. US Secretary of State Blinken tweeted about Morocco as a "strategic partner".

The Moroccan Ambassador has been recalled to Rabat, after telling Europa Press at midday that "there are actions that have consequences and you must live with that". The Spanish action in question, which no one in the Spanish government has admitted is at the root of the crisis, is Spain deciding to treat Polisario Front leader Brahim Gali for Covid at a hospital in Logroño (La Rioja). The Moroccan Foreign Ministry even published a Twitter thread warning of the consequences of Spain's "premeditated act" on May 8.

The Spanish government deployed police and troops to the border fence in the early hours of Tuesday morning and Pedro Sánchez spoke to King Felipe, "with whom he analysed the lines of action Spain will take" regarding the "grave crisis". Hours later, the Prime Minister was physically in North Africa on a trip to "demonstrate determination" and display Spanish sovereignty over the two cities. His visit is the first since Zapatero in 2006 and Zapatero's was the first since Adolfo Suárez in 1980.

Also hours later, the King spoke to the First Minister of Ceuta, Vivas (PP), to offer support. Vivas had told reporters government capacity in the city had been completly overwhelmed. The regional parliament in the other Spanish North African city, Melilla, 230 km to the east, has issued a statement condemning Morocco's actions and talking of "difficult moments of uncertainty". So far, a simliar situation has not come about there.

European leaders have issued standard comments on solidarity and migration. Spaniards awoke to images of armoured vehicles deployed on the beach in Ceuta and all day long, Spanish soldiers and police officers appear to have behaved in an exemplary fashion, firmly trying to hold the border while at the same time treating the exhausted people swimming across in a humanitarian manner. But this is clearly not a migrant crisis, nor is this an "invasion", as Vox rushed to announce to the country. It is a state using its citizens to create a problem for another state as punishment or as a way to try to force a negotiation.

Will Morocco now continue with its game, or rest having made its point, to Spain and Europe? Is Spain ready if Rabat decides to up the stakes?

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